They're running 15 stakes worth a combined $3.7 million at Pimlico Race Course May 19 and 20, but in terms of weather, what a difference a day will make.
The sudden blast of summer that arrived in Baltimore mid-week will continue through Friday's card topped by the Black Eyed Susan (G2) and Pimlico Special (G3) stakes; temperatures may approach 90, with a very good (80 percent) chance of thunderstorms developing as the day goes on. After that, though, a cold front moves through and it's supposed to be a comfy 70 degrees or so Preakness Day.
Let's take a look at the most noteworthy races:
Pimlico Special (Friday, race 7, 2:39 ET): Shaman Ghost (#6) is a deserving 4-5 favorite on the morning line in the wake of a solid second to Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), followed by a determined effort to wear down Midnight Storm in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino (G1).
The winner of the Special's 2016 edition at 4-5, Noble Bird (#5) , has struggled to find his best form since winning the Hagyard Fayette (G2) in track-record time last October. He is being reunited with Julien Leparoux, and it will be interesting to see whether he can recapture his early speed after being outsprinted early in both the New Orleans Handicap (G2) and Alysheba Stakes presented by Big Fish Casino (G2).
If he doesn't, that would seriously aid Shaman Ghost's stablemate Dolphus (#1), a half-brother to 2009 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Rachel Alexandra, whose two best efforts have come as the controlling speed.
Whatever develops up front, it's difficult to envision Shaman Ghost being denied against these, although a wet track would introduce an element of uncertainty and make me a bit less enthusiastic about singling him to start a pick five that goes through the Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3) and Black-Eyed Susan (G2) stakes.
Adena Springs Miss Preakness (Friday, race 9, 3:44 ET): A standing-room only crowd of 15 sophomore fillies—who last raced at 10 different venues—entered this scramble. None of them are more inscrutable than Too Much Tip (#10), who has joined up with Wesley Ward after winning six of seven starts at Hipodromo Camarero in Puerto Rico.
Pretty City Dancer (#12) dead-heated for a share of the Spinaway Stakes (G1) last summer, and while the late-running miss hasn't gone on from there, the cutback to six furlongs and the prospect of a hot pace may be to her benefit.
I plan on keying around the trio of Our Majesty (#5), Nonna Bella (#8) and Astrollinthepark (#11), but this is a race where you could use an additional handful of contenders and still not feel confident.
A - 5, 8, 11
B - 10, 12
C - 2, 4, 6, 7, 13
Black-Eyed Susan (Friday, race 11, 4:50 ET): Only slightly less exasperating than the Miss Preakness, this edition of the Black-Eyed Susan anchors several multi-race wagers including the aforementioned pick five.
I am open to arguments for or against anyone.
Moana (#7) may have the most upside based on a sharp second-out maiden victory at Keeneland for Todd Pletcher, but her overall lack of experience is a real concern.
Pletcher's other filly, Lights of Medina (#5), needs to be considered after earning a fees-paid berth by winning the Weber City Miss, followed by a bullet work.
Actress (#10) is still a maiden after starting her career with two runner-up finishes in sprints, but this Tapit filly finished strongly after being bumped back to last in her debut, and gave a good account in a restricted stake at Gulfstream Park after that. Her trainer, Jason Servis, excels with stretch-outs, and she is out of Milwaukee Appeal, who won the 2009 Woodbine Oaks and was beaten a neck in the Queen's Plate after that.
Summer Luck (#9) got no pace to run at last out but figures in the mix off her penultimate effort, a rallying third in the Davona Dale (G2) behind four-time graded stakes winner Miss Sky Warrior.
A - 7, 9, 10
B - 5, 6
C - 1, 2, 8
Longines Dixie (Saturday, race 12, 5:39 ET): Scratched from the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1T) because of rain-softened ground, World Approval (#2) resurfaces here for Mark Casse, and projects to get first run on probable pacesetter Security Risk (#1).
Ring Weekend (#10) returned from a layoff of more than 14 months to run a close second in last year's Dixie despite racing wide throughout. The brittle-footed veteran has won a couple graded stakes from similar wide draws, and looks like a logical threat here.
Chad Brown's pair of Projected (#4) and Catapult (#8) rate a chance off their most recent performances, as does Blacktype (#7), who is second off the bench after a troubled trip in the Makers 46 Mile (G1T) for Christophe Clement.
A - 2, 10
B - 4, 7, 8
Preakness (Saturday, race 13, 6:48 ET): With Royal Mo suffering a career-ending injury in a workout last Sunday, there just isn't a lot of speed in this match-up to make things difficult for Always Dreaming (#4) other than Conquest Mo Money (#10), who is drawn way outside for the third straight time.
Always Dreaming is now 4 for 4 for Todd Pletcher, and those victories have been accomplished by a combined margin of just over 23 lengths.
As much as it pains me to be perceived as a chalk-eating weasel, it really seems like a reach to come up with viable alternatives to the 4-5 morning-line choice other than Classic Empire (#5), who plugged along decently enough to finish fourth after being wiped out at the start of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).
Classic Empire has had a well-documented share of trials and tribulations, to be sure. But assuming a less-eventful getaway, he will be positioned closer to the pace, and that will afford him a tactical advantage on the stretch runners Hence (#3), Gunnevara (#6) and Lookin At Lee (#9).
A - 4
B - 5
C - 3, 6, 9